Going to Mexico from San Diego? Preparation is key for border crossing

Posted October 31, 2013


SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The letters on the entry sign are bright red and exceptionally large:

M E X I C O.

Driving down the I-5 South, the transition between San Diego County and Baja California, Mexico is as easy as a pass under a bridge.  While a negative stigma of Tijuana permeates American culture, there are safe ways to travel there that can make for a fun, secure and virtually stress-free trip.

The San Ysidro/Tijuana border

The San Ysidro-Tijuana border crossing near San Diego (Photo by Morgan Golumbuk).

The San Ysidro-Tijuana border is the world’s busiest port of entry. Located 20 miles south of downtown San Diego, San Ysidro is the ideal place to pass into Mexico by bus, trolley, car or even boat.

All of the transportation options are relatively cheap and public transit between countries is seamless. Greyhound Bus Lines offer daily service from downtown San Diego as well as San Ysidro, costing from $5 to $9.

Similarly, the San Diego Trolley’s Blue Line provides service every 15 minutes from downtown San Diego. The cost for a one-way trip is $2.50 but one, two, three and four-day Day Passes are also available and provide unlimited rides.

Driving to the border provides two options. Visitors can either park at one of several pay parking lots on the U.S. side and walk across or drive their car straight into Mexico. Parking rates are between $6 and $10 for a 24-hour time span. When taking one’s own car into Mexico, Mexican Automobile Liability Insurance is suggested. When renting a car from an American rental agency, it is required. In the event of an accident, most U.S. policies are rendered invalid.

Because travel between Southern California and Tijuana is so popular, Tijuana’s tourism site even has step-by-step guidelines on taking one’s own boat south of the border. Entering Mexico can either be done by land (towing a trailer) or by sea, but both require documentation including the vessel ownership title, tourist entry form and an international credit card, bond or deposit.

Though the Tijuana International Airport is close in proximity to the border and a viable option, it is not suggested. It is much costlier and includes far more hassles than the others.

If you’re looking for a more guided experience, there are tours leaving from San Diego every day. Websites like Viator provide information about half-day, full-day and hop-on hop-off tours that range from shopping excursions to history lessons.

Now that you know how to enter Mexico, there are some guidelines associated with border travel of which all visitors must be aware. Most importantly, be prepared for your return trip. According to GoCalifornia, “U. S. citizens can visit Mexico for 72 hours or less without visas, but since early 2008 they need proof of citizenship when they return.”

Also be prepared that your trip back into the U.S. will take longer than your original journey. Border traffic can put a multiple-hour delay on your return, so avoid Saturday and Sunday evening travel if possible. The earlier in the day you leave, the easier it will be.

Finally, be ready will all documents when you arrive at the border. All persons in your party must display a valid passport and declare any items purchased in Mexico (duty-free up to $800). Being prepared for this will expedite your process immensely.

No matter which method you use to travel into Mexico, always be conscious of the dangers of international travel. Be sure to lock your car and leave all expensive jewelry and other valuables at home. Beware of pickpockets as well. As quick and easy as the trip may be, every country has hazards.

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